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Distinctly dispiriting campaign climate

by 13 Oct 2007Local0 comments

Swinging into the Waitetï Stream

About to Take a Bath: The editor’s excuse for setting the grandchildren this bad example by swimming in his clothes?—having that second returned sweaty and soot-covered from the site of Jaap van Dorsser’s riparian restoration. photographer Darnelle Owston-Doyle

I last stood for council 33 years ago.

A candidate for the Hibiscus Coast District Community Council, I came, I was want to say, dangerously close to being elected. Not dangerous in the sense that I was too young, more that I was never comfortable with the adversarial model and probably would have failed to influence a single decision.

Regardless, the community council obligingly voted itself out of existence at the end of that term.

Today at least, you are not automatically derided for a belief in the deliberative model, as opposed to a reliance on the unfetted power of the old boy network—the numbers game.

At about the same time, I made my first visit to parliament. In the flesh, it was an even more thoroughly dismal experience than when overhearing, in my youth, the radio broadcasts of parliament, diligently followed by a remarkable number of citizens, then. I was sufficiently appalled to write to my local member, Hon. Peter Wilkinson. He pleaded that I not judge government by what went on at parliament.

I was less than assuaged, and I have a strong suspicion that the preparedness of New Zealanders to vote for proportional government was as much about being unconvinced that the tradition two parties taking turns at opposing the other’s policies, as it was about giving minor parties a fair shake of the sauce bottle.

Proportional government has resulted in women and minority interests being much better represented in government. At a Values Party meeting in Warkworth, I proposed a strategy, that the party, for the upcoming election, stand down its candidates in electorates where the major parties had the courage to stand a female candidate.

The immediate howls of outrage allowed me to experience the lot of the heretic:

You’re not suggesting we vote National!

It was not a question, and it was delivered at point blank range, accompanied with spittle.

While I retained an interest in central, local and regional policymaking, I more and more learned where I could make a difference. Focussing on and nailing, more often than not, specific local projects, as part of a team. The thing about working for a voluntary organisation is that nobody has to do your bidding. Success only comes where the goals are shared.

Then one of the extremely supportive members of the Friends of the Mahurangi executive urged me to stand:

You are doing the work anyway, Rodney District Council should be paying you.

The logic was inescapable and in fairness to the many members who donate specifically to the part-time paid organiser’s salary, I knew I had to take the suggestion seriously.

At the time, there were indications that none of the incumbent Northern Ward councillors would be standing. Penny Webster, it had long been mooted, would likely be our new mayor and Dr Grahame Powell and John Ross were thought to have had their fill. In the event twelve candidates contested the three positions, including some enjoying excellent name recognition.

Then there were the election meetings.

The high point was the first meeting, the Warkworth senior citizens, and the civility and hospitality extended. But they certainly didn’t deserve, or require, the lecture about the importance of voting they received from a candidate several decades their junior.

The arrogance of some candidates was breathtaking. And the constant, indiscriminate denigration of Rodney District staff and councillors and contractors by candidates—a number of whom were clearly capable of starting a fight in an empty room—was deeply dispiriting.

One of the considerations I had to weigh before agreeing to be nominated was whether, successful or otherwise, I would reduce my ability to work with Rodney District Council. For that reason I was determined to focus on greater council involvement in the many promising Mahurangi initiatives. Otherwise I was proud, but deeply disconcerted, to be the only candidate to mention global warming, much less lead with:

Global warming is beginning to bite.


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